Here’s a visual reminder that it’s not about how much the Cubs spend, but how they spend that’s important.
Only twice in the past 10 years have the Cubs seen an increase in payroll translate to more wins. However, four times they spent more on player salary than the year prior–only to lose more games.
The result of careless spending ultimately limits roster flexibility. It makes it tougher to acquire players and increasingly difficult to trade underperforming ones signed to gaudy contracts.
Doubling down on payroll can open a small window to win a championship, as it did for the Cubs in 2007-08, but we know it’s no guarantee to winning a ring and the long-term effects makes it virtually impossible to maintain any success.
That’s why Theo Epstein is taking a more careful approach with team payroll than his predecessor Jim Hendry. Building the Cubs into a consistent winner, one that reaches the postseason year-after-year, gives the club its best odds of winning a World Series.
To build that model Epstein has to first relieve the pressure of what became a suffocating team payroll and roster gridlock under Hendry. It means making smarter investments, taking fewer risks and practicing more patience until some roster flexibility returns.
Of course building a core player group won’t come on the cheap. Neither will supplementing the core group with the best available free agents. No doubt Tom Ricketts realizes it’s going to take significant dollars to build a championship roster. It’s just important the payroll and roster talent grow together and not apart.
A staple of smart investing is discipline and patience. It’s understanding there’s no penalty for making smarter, smaller moves. But there are, however, severe consequences for losing sight of the long-term goals with greed and impatience.
What better way to sum up the chart above.
Chairman Tom Ricketts wrote to Cubs Season Ticket Holders following the conclusion of the regular season. Here’s my interpretation of the letter in short form. Make of it what you will…(read the letter in its entirety below the jump)
-You’re important to us as fans.
-Our No.1 goal is to win a World Series.
-We’re spending a ton of money to achieve it.
-This won’t happen overnight.
-We’re trying to be honest about this message.
-Be excited about our unproven minor leaguers.
-We’ve grown the front office with smart people who are good with computers.
-Our new facilities in the Dominican Rep. & Arizona are pretty cool.
-We donated millions of dollars to various charities this past calendar year.
-Thanks for being supportive while we clean up this 101-loss mess.
This is the first of a two-part series addressing possible free-agent signings for the Cubs’ entering the 2013 season. This article addresses FA pitchers, the second article covers FA position players…
Eventually, Tom Ricketts will open his wallet and invite the game’s top free-agents to join the Cubs. But until Team Theo builds Ricketts’ team into a contender, which will take a few more years, the free-agent ‘A-listers’ remain a pie in the sky.
In the meantime, however, the Cubs will look to sign mid-tier free-agents to round out its roster for the 2013 season. Below is a list of potential FA that could fit the Cubs’ needs for next season. (Player age listed in parenthesis)
-Brandon McCarthy (29): Career record (37-39, 4.02) He’s statistically improved with age while becoming somewhat of a stat-head paying close attention to sabermetrics, which shouldn’t hurt his chances with the Cubs’ new front office. The Cubs could land him with a deal similar to what they gave Paul Maholm last year: 1-yr, $4.75M with a club option, that is, assuming McCarthy returns to full health following his recent emergency brain surgery after being hit in the head on a come-backer.
-Anibal Sanchez (29): Career record (46-50, 3.79). The high price tag of $8.0M he’s due this season isn’t in the Cubs’ favor, and they shouldn’t spend as much on a guy who’s been good, but mostly inconsistent throughout his career. But if the price is right, the Cubs could find a pitcher with his best days still ahead.
-Chris Young (34): Career record (53-41, 3.81). The tall right-hander (6′ 10″) hasn’t been the same since Albert Pujols lined a ball off his face in May of 2008. Additionally, Young’s been hampered by arm injuries limiting his starts to just 25-games over the past three seasons. There’s definitely some risk with signing him, but he is affordable and could be had for less than a million bucks.
I view the bullpen as the Cubs’ greatest area of need entering next season. I’ve listed the possible FA candidates by age.
-JP Howell (28): Career record (21-23, 4.42). In 2008 the Rays transitioned Howell from the rotation to the bullpen, the results of which, have been promising. The lefty has been a key cog in Tampa’s pen and shows signs he’ll only get better. After a disappointing year in 2011 (6.16 ERA), Howell has bounced back to form this year posting a 2.89 ERA. A lefty like this won’t come on the cheap, but with the kid entering his prime a multi-year deal around $6M could get the deal done.
-Carlos Villanueva (29): Career record (33-33, 4.14) He’s the rare, but convenient, starter/reliever type that could make sense for Chicago. He’s made 13 spot-starts in each of the past two seasons while also being a serviceable arm in the bullpen. A deal of $3 M or less wouldn’t be bad for utility arm like Villanueva’s.
-Matt Capps (29): He saved 42-games between Washington and Minnesota two years ago, but shoulder inflammation has burdened him since 2011 and squashed the Twins’ hopes of trading him this past July. The Cubs would be buying low and at a risk; and anything more than $2M is probably too much to fork over. Whether or not Capps remains closer material is up for debate, but the Cubs do need someone to close if they still intend to deal Marmol this winter.
-Brandon League (30): He saved 37-games last season and made the All Star team for Seattle. The Mariners traded League to the Dodgers this July where’s he’s performing on-par with his 2011 season. He’s likely going to cost more than what the Cubs want to spend, especially to join the rebuild, but for $5M or less Chicago could pull the trigger.
-Mark Lowe (30): Injuries have plagued the Rangers’ right-hander the past two seasons. He has, however, rebounded nicely posting a 2.61 ERA over 34-games in 2012. His injury history may limit his price enough the Cubs could land him with a deal around $2M.
-Ramon Ramirez (31): Career record (23-20, 3.32). A rolling stone; Mets, Rockies, Royals, Red Sox and now the Giants. Surprising because he’s been good for around 70-games and 60-innings throughout his career. Consistency appears to be an issue, but a rubber-arm like his would be awfully valuable to the Cubs for $3M or less.
-Francisco Rodriguez (31): Career 2.71 ERA & 294 saves. His second season in Milwaukee has been the worst of his career (2-7, 4.37). After leaving Anaheim to sign his mega-deal with the Mets paying him $12M, the Brewers chopped it to $8M last season in a surprising move to resign K-Rod, who expressed his unhappiness as a set-up man to John Axford. Milwaukee won’t make the same mistake twice, and given his poor season, the Cubs could also try cutting his pay. I’ve got to believe K-Rod is better than he’s shown this season, and for $6M it’s a chance the Cubs should take to give K-Rod the closer’s role.
-Clay Hensley (33): He’s been hot & cold during his tenure with the Marlins and Giants. A 2.16 ERA in 2010 preceded his 5.19 ERA last season. This year he’s (4-3, 4.37). Hensley’s not the sexiest pick on the list, but he’s certainly within the Cubs’ price range for $1M or less.
-Mike Adams (34): He’s been a stud throughout his eight-year career. Although his age is a concern, it wouldn’t hurt the Cubs’ young bullpen to have a veteran around the likes of Adams. The hard part is, Adams has been so good for Texas the past two season, it’s hard to believe he would sign with a rebuilding franchise. I’m guessing he’ll fetch somewhere around $7-9M, and likely more to be enticed to join the Cubs. Not likely, of course, but if age keeps other contenders from giving Adams the deal he wants, the Cubs could splurge some to land him. A huge coup if it were to happen.
-Juan Cruz (34): Yes, the former Cub! (2001-’03). He pitched really well for Tampa last season in 58-games (5-0, 3.88). And this season he’s been a major contributor for the Pirates’ strong bullpen appearing in 43-games going (1-1, 2.78). Cruz is probably looking at a deal worth $2-3M, which is within the Cubs’ budget for a mid-level FA. It might take more to get him to join a 100-loss team, but the price would be well worth it for a reliable short-term fix.
-Jeremy Affeldt (34): He’s an 11-year veteran and good clubhouse guy who’s certain to field plenty of offers because, well, he’s left-handed. Affeldt’s averaged 60-plus games per-season since 2007 and put up terrific numbers the past two season with San Francisco: 2.63 ERA 2011 & 2.65 ERA this year. I expect Affeldt to land a deal more than $5M, and at his age it’s unlikely he wants to join the lowly Cubs. At best, it’s a stretch to think the Cubs would even get a meeting with his agent this winter…unless they’re willing to over-spend to get him, which doesn’t make sense, but could happen. Good left-handed relief is hard to find, and aside from James Russell, the Cubs really don’t have any.
-Mike Gonzalez (35): We saw plenty of this guy while he broke in with the Pirates to start his career. Ever since, however, the hard-throwing lefty has battled injuries which ultimately limited him to just 7-games with the Rangers in 2011 before undergoing knee surgery. He’s made a nice recovery with the Nationals this season posting a 2.73 ERA in 39-games, and like Affeldt, he’s older, but left-handed, which means there should be plenty of good offers available. But being long in the tooth with a history of nagging injuries should keep his price tag under $6M. That’s probably more than the Cubs are willing to spend, but again, he’s a solid southpaw and the Cubs need all the help they can get for its patch-work bullpen–even if it comes with some risk.
I can’t believe the Cubs don’t have a better option in the rotation than Chris Volstad (0-9, 6.88).
He’s winless in 14 starts with Chicago and hasn’t won a single game over his last 24 outings dating back to his days with the Marlins.
It’s even tougher to believe Volstad actually won 12-games with the Fish just two seasons ago. Of course, when he faltered badly in 2011 going (5-13, 4.89) he became expendable on South Beach, and now we know why.
Volstad struggles with command, struggles to stick to the game-plan, struggles to pitch out of trouble and struggles with confidence. Did I miss anything?
STOP BLAMING THEO FOR VOLSTAD
It’s easy to be critical of Theo Epstein for dealing Carlos Zambrano for a 6’8″ has-been. But it’s important to remember this trade wasn’t about what the Cubs were getting in return.
This deal was strictly about dealing Big Z; a malcontent who had become a destructive clubhouse cancer on the North Side.
Tom Ricketts was essentially paying Zambrano to go away when Epstein dealt him to Miami in January. The fact a player was coming in return was simply icing on the cake, and although Volstad was coming off a down year, six of his last seven starts were quality outings with Florida.
Let’s not pretend there were better deals on the table for Zambrano, either. In fact, it was the only deal available, and the Cubs finally accomplished what they should’ve done years ago–ridding the organization of El Toro.
PUTTING THE BIG Z TRADE IN PERSPECTIVE
As poorly as Volstad has pitched since joining the Cubs, it’s nowhere near the frustrations that would’ve boiled over with Zambrano’s selfishness on a team treading towards a franchise-worst record. Lord only knows what pyrotechnics would have shot out of Big Z during the Cubs 12-game losing streak in May.
The idea Zambrano would’ve helped the Cubs this season is entirely fool’s gold. Sure, he’s pitched better than Volstad going (7-9, 4.32), but even so it wasn’t enough from keeping his close friend Ozzie GuiIlen from demoting Carlos to the bullpen in the season’s second half.
Volstad, however, doesn’t earn a free pass for simply being a throw-in piece to the trade. The Cubs, believe it or not, are still a major league team in the business of winning. Volstad, to this point, has been counterproductive to those efforts.
WHY IS VOLSTAD STILL PITCHING FOR THE CUBS?
How on earth the Cubs justify Volstad’s roster spot is beyond me. My best guess, however, is with the season a wash and hardly any reserves left in the minor leagues, the Cubs are giving Volstad the longest possible opportunity to show improvement.
It’s been long enough in my opinion, and I’m certain in the minds of many other Cubs fans, as well.
The Cubs currently have two minor league starters who could fit the bill over the final six weeks pitching at least as effective as Volstad, and I’d venture to say even better.
Rodrigo Lopez is (2-5, 5.28) with Triple-A Iowa. He started 16-games for the Cubs last season and wasn’t all that bad going (6-6, 4.42). He’s the furthest thing from being part of the Cubs rebuilding plan, but so too is Volstad.
Casey Coleman (2-4, 4.34) hasn’t exactly been tearing it up at Iowa, either. But he has seen several previous stints in the big leagues as both a starter and reliever, including a spot-start on July 31 against Pittsburgh–4.2, 4-ER, 7-H, 4-BB, 5-K. Volstad-esque, but hardly any worse.
So why not take a chance with one of these two guys? Who knows, maybe the Cubs actually win enough games behind one of them to help avoid a dreadful 100-loss season? Sticking with Volstad, meanwhile, only guarantees the Cubs will reach triple digit losses.
You couldn’t pick a better time for Alfonso Soriano to get hot at the plate.
With the imminent arrival of Anthony Rizzo one month away (June 24) this might be the Cubs best, and only shot, at dealing Soriano if Tom Ricketts is still willing to eat an enormous $40M of Soriano’s remaining $50M dollar contract.
That’s a lot of dough for Ricketts to swallow, but it’s also one of the most important business decision on a laundry list of moves in the name of rebuilding.
Brutal loss Friday night/Saturday morning in Milwaukee. It’s just too painful to relive all the details.
The saving grace is Game 2 starts at noon today. No sense stirring over all the woulda, coulda and should haves from the 8-7, 13-inning loss–and there were many.
I’ve been asked several times this week both in person and via Twitter if Kerry Wood should call it a career and retire from baseball?
A ‘Group Patio’ in right field and a new 75-foot LED scoreboard? This is what Cubs fans want at Wrigley Field? According to Cubs chairman, Tom Ricketts, the answer is yes.
Since when did Cubs fans decide the charm of the ol’ ballyard wasn’t up to snuff, that a giant video board was a missing piece, that the right field bleachers were clearly lacking corporate advertising?
I’m curious to know ‘Who are these Cubs fans’…and what else will they ask for–fireworks after a Cubbie home run, a children’s playground in the left field bleachers…a new ballpark in the suburbs?
This is either a severe case of the Cubs miscounting hanging chads, or we’re getting fed a serious line of phony boloney.
The $15M dollars the Cubs are paying to rid themselves of Carlos Zambrano is worth every penny of Tom Ricketts’ money.
Although it’s not the big-splash move Cubs fans had hoped for at the Winter Meetings, or the looming trade of Matt Garza, it’s certainly the most critical move Theo Epstein has made this offseason—and I couldn’t be happier.
1.) Tom Ricketts’ wise understanding as team owner.
2.) Pujols or Fielder?
3.) Did the Cubs really lose Maddux again?
1.) What I’m most happy about this offseason is Tom Ricketts’ willingness to allow Theo Epstein the opportunity to build the Cubs as he sees fit.
Basically, Ricketts is staying out Theo’s way, which is something we don’t see often enough from owners in pro sports be it baseball, football, basketball or hockey.
There’s no better proof Cubs ownership is trying to win than Tom Ricketts’ aggressive attempt to land Theo Epstein as his new GM. And for that, I give the Cubs mad props.
Ricketts has plenty of leverage to pry Epstein away from his hometown of Boston: An exciting change of scenery, more executive power, and the colossal challenge of bringing a World Series title to Wrigleyville–the perfect bait to hook one of the game’s brightest and most successful GMs.
But this is no small mess on the North Side, mind you. Not with the Cubs in a state of flux, meandering around the bottom of the standing with a mixed-bag of back-loaded contracts, young budding stars and washed-up veterans.
It’s a job fit for a pro, a mastermind like Theo who’s accustomed to working under the pressures of a large market club hungry to win.
That’s why offering equal, if not higher, compensation for Epstein is well worth the cost of doing business for Chicago–at least in the long haul.
Any fan paying attention knows a championship caliber club starts at the top with ownership, then the GM, next are talented players and lastly, the right fit at manager.
Ricketts, Epstein, Sandberg…sounds like winning baseball to me, despite the early costs.